BLAKE MORGAN to Speak at Canadian Music Week Global Forum
Blake Morgan is a fighter. Sure, as a celebrated singer-songwriter, and founder and CEO of ECR Music Group, as well as being the driving force behind #IRespectMusic, he's a lover too: of music, musicians, and their rights to be treated with fairness and respect. And lots of music makers--from young singer-songwriters to Taylor Swift--are dissatisfied right now with how streaming music is endangering their income from their art. But not many artists have taken up the fight to this extent: spending much of their time over the last year in the offices of members of Congress, convincing them of the essential need for reform to protect musicians' rights. Blake Morgan has, and his grassroots #IRespectMusic campaign is now reaching a major benchmark with new transformative legislation, "The Fair Play Fair Pay Act of 2015," being introduced in Congress. Blake has been speaking about the campaign on major media, from CNN and Fox News, to NPR and The New York Times. And, in the first week of May, he'll be a featured speaker at the Global Music Forum 2015 as part of Canadian Music Week, in Toronto.
Blake, a born and raised New Yorker, began his musical career with great success with a seven-album deal at a major recording company--Phil Ramone's N2K/Sony label--and had a hit with his album Anger's Candy. But changes in the industry and a frustration with how he felt many major labels were managing musicians led him to break free from his contract. It turned out Blake's misgivings were prophetic, as only six months after he left, N2K folded.
Soon afterwards, Blake started his own modern independent label, Engine Company Records, which would grow to become ECR Music Group. Originally launched in a one-room makeshift recording studio-office off his laptop computer, ECR would operate under an elemental principle unprecedented in the music world: all of its artists and labels own one-hundred percent of their master recordings.
"You know, sometimes what ends up looking like inspiration is really just desperation at the time," Blake recalls, "I'd just fought my way out of my multi-album major label deal, and was trying to make sense of my musical future. I'd been producing and recording a lot of local NYC bands and artists, while also showcasing for a new record deal myself. One day, while walking down the street with my mother, I said, 'You know...if I had any guts, I'd just start my own record label. One where all the artists owned their own recordings. Where we'd work together, and challenge each other to reach higher. We'd stop making demos and just act like they were records, and put them out, damn the torpedoes.' And she said very lovingly, and smiling in fact, 'Yeah, if you had any guts that is what you'd do.' I love that she pushed me like that. And a decade later, here we are, a global music company that has kept to those very ideals."
As ECR rose and Blake's own musical career flourished (including his most recent hit album Diamonds In The Dark), Blake's drive to challenge the music industry grew. The United States has remained the only democratic country in the world where artists do not get paid when their music is played on the radio (this has been the case for the last 90 years). Two op-ed articles Blake wrote proved to be the beginning of something big in challenging this. They were Pandora Needs to Do Right By Artists, which gained coverage in TIME and Reuters, and Art and Music Are Professions Worth Fighting For, which went viral and became The Huffington Post's most-read music article of 2013.
"The #IRespectMusic movement was really born from an Op-ed I wrote for The Huffington Post," Blake notes. "I ended the piece with those three words, 'I respect music,' which was the first time I'd ever written them anywhere. That article was an important benchmark in my own growing involvement in music advocacy which had begun about six months earlier, when an email exchange between myself and Pandora founder Tim Westergren was made public, also in The Huffington Post. I had called Mr. Westergren out--respectfully--on what I felt was the hypocrisy of his, and his company's behavior towards music makers. I think the 'whistleblowing' nature of that exchange really resonated with people in a David vs. Goliath way. The day after the email exchange was released, Pandora lost $130 million on the Stock Exchange in the first half-hour of trading. That certainly got my attention, and got me thinking about what else I could do, myself, to contribute to this fight. That's really what #IRespectMusic was born out of."
The huge response Blake received doubled his resolve to fix the failures in a system that he felt hindered musicians' prospects for a healthy future. He started the #IRespectMusic movement, which included a 'selfie' campaign in which music makers and music lovers tweet photos of themselves with a sign proclaiming #IRespectMusic. High profile supporters included Patrick Stewart, David Byrne, Aerosmith's Joe Perry, Gloria Steinem, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Roseanne Cash, and Jane Fonda, while in just the first 30 days of the campaign, the campaign garnered thousands upon thousands of signatures to the #IRespectMusic petition urging the US Congress to extend public performance royalties on sound recordings to AM/FM radio.
Blake was surprised by how quickly the movement gathered interest. "Well, I knew that both the timing and the subject matter of that Op-ed was likely going to lead to a strong reaction from many, and would resonate deeply with a lot of people, yes. But, I could never have imagined how big that reaction would actually wind up being, and how deeply it would motivate people to act once we launched the website (IRespectMusic.org). The outpouring of excitement, energy, engagement, and action was--and is--unlike anything I've experienced. It has truly been a phenomenon. And so positive, too! In every one of the thousands upon thousands of photos of people proudly standing with the #IRespectMusic hashtag, everyone's smiling! Right on!"
The next step was to meet with members of Congress and try and get an official response to this public outpouring. Blake's experience as an artist engaging with politicians would prove to be surprising. "It's been incredibly moving and powerful, in fact," Blake says. "It's actually made me more proud of our country. At a time when Democrats and Republicans rarely even agree on the color of the sky, they're joining together about this, to agree on a simple, elemental principle: artists should be paid for their work. It's been an honor taking #IRespectMusic to Capitol Hill and meeting with so many members of Congress. And on a personal note, it's been deeply important to me to fulfill the promise of the I Respect Music petition on the website. The continuing goal of that now-historic petition is to urge Congress to support artists pay for radio airplay, and they're now doing it, and acting. It's so moving to me."
In the past couple of weeks, Blake has seen some very exciting fruit of his labors. Change has indeed come to Congress, as Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) and Rep. Ted Deutch (D_FL) introduced bi-partisan, historic legislation, titled the "Fair Play Fair Pay Act of 2015." This landmark music bill would update the law to ensure that all artists are fairly paid on digital and AM/FM radio.
"This Act would fundamentally change the lives of millions of hard working American music makers,"Blake stresses. "It would reverse our country's century-old position on not paying artists when their work is played on the radio. It would restore digital royalty payments to music makers whose iconic work was released prior to 1972 (protecting many legacy artists who are now in their seventies and eighties), work that is constantly monetized by billion dollar corporations without any recompense to the artists who created that work. It would get music producers paid too. It guarantees a tech-neutral approach. It guarantees songwriters won't be penalized in the fight to get the artists who perform those songs paid as well. There's even more good in the bill than all that, but suffice it to say, it is a historic and long overdue move to reform the musical landscape for millions of Americans, and I couldn't support it more strongly."
On May 8th, Blake will be continuing to spread the word about the campaign as a featured speaker at the Global Music Forum 2015, part of Canadian Music Week in Toronto. "It's a true honor to be a part of Canadian Music Week and the GMF. I had the fortune of being at both last year, and giving a presentation about #IRespectMusic and the birth of the campaign and movement. A year later, we've got our bill! We've got a true, national, massive, grass-roots movement pushing for reform and artists'rights that is demonstrating it can win these fights in the pursuit of fairness. A special honor for me personally, is to be at the GMF this year alongside Zoe Keating, who is as brilliant and courageous an artist as she is an activist. I'm in awe of her, and It's hard for me to process that I'll be sharing a panel with her. She is my hero."
So after all this, what does the future hold for Blake? "I'm often asked where I see my own music activism going, and I always reply the same way. I say, 'I see it ending. Because I see us winning. We're going to fight, and win. And then my activism won't be needed any longer.' Nothing lies closer to the heart of our national identity as Americans than our music. Rock and Roll is an American innovation. Hip-Hop is an American innovation. Jazz and Blues, Country and Bluegrass, each of them and so many more, are American innovations. The people who make that music should be paid fairly. And they will be if we keep working the way have been, together. We're winning now because we're standing together, as music makers and music lovers, and as Americans. We're doing it for our profession. And we're doing it with, and out of, respect."